Vine Care UK is a long-established leading provider of vineyard services to many of the nation’s vinegrowers and is well ahead of the curve when it comes to anticipating the future needs of the industry. Vineyard finds out what’s new with Vine Care UK and the UK’s first trading platform – ‘The Grape Exchange’.

Vine Care UK was set up in 2011 by Paul Woodrow-Hill who has over 30 years’ experience in viticulture, as well as a BSc in Wine Science. The business provides everything from vineyard planning and establishment, supplies of vines, equipment, labour – to complete management packages. Paul is now launching a new business, The Grape Exchange, that will act as a formal broker for fruit and bulk wine. “This is a service to meet a rising demand as in the past handshakes and verbal agreements have left many unstuck,” commented Paul.

The Grape Exchange

Paul has teamed up with Steve Burnett, Vineyard Manager for Vine Care UK, and formed The Grape Exchange, a new service to match grape growers with buyers across the UK. Steve’s background lies firmly in wine. He gained experience in vineyard and winery management, as well as the commercial aspect of wine sales and marketing, across Europe. 

The Grape Exchange “will ensure that vineyards have buyers for their crop and winemakers can access the fruit they need – at mutually agreeable prices,” explains Steve.

“The Grape Exchange will take away the stress of having to find a buyer or seller, as we do all the legwork for our clients. We will use our years of market experience in the industry, along with our knowledge of contracts, to represent our clients and negotiate for the best prices on their behalf. Growers will receive a fair price for their harvest and winemakers will not be overcharged or tied into contracts,” he added.

The Grape Exchange will also provide a platform for buyers and sellers of bulk wine explains Steve. “Sellers tell us how much they have to sell, and their reserve price and buyers tell us how much they require and their budget. Again, we use all of our experience and contacts to negotiate a mutually agreeable price. We can even organise the transport of wine if required. I very much look forward to working with existing and new clients on this exciting new service,” he said.

A flexible approach to vineyard management

Vine Care UK is very aware that when it comes to vineyard management services that one size does not fit all. “Some vineyards require a complete package, incorporating all aspects of vineyard management, including the supply of vineyard tractors and machinery,” explains Paul. “This we can provide but we’re also happy to offer a scaled down service to suit our customers. This is simply done on an affordable hourly rate so customers can choose the number of visits, and adjust through the year to suit their needs,” Paul added.

The management service from Vine Care UK involves regular visits to check for early signs of disease, nutrient deficiency or any threat from pests. Paul explains: “Plant protection products can be recommended based on our observations. We will also advise the timing of upcoming tasks, and if needed, labour provided to complete those tasks. A full written report accompanies every visit. Every vineyard that uses our management service is guaranteed harvest labour – so there are no more concerns in finding that critical harvest crew.” 

Vine Care UK are keen to keep up with the latest technology to provide the best service to customers. “We have recently invested in a new sprayer, and it’s pleasing to see how the latest models have new additional features, which our clients can benefit from,” said Paul. 

There is always a lot of discussion about how to best manage the under-vine strip. “Repeated herbicide applications can be damaging to the soil, but so can cultivation so at Vine Care UK we are trialling suitable cover crops that aren’t overly competitive and can be kept short by mowing between the vines. We’ve added to our machinery a Fischer mower which cuts cover crop growth between the vines and therefore negates the need for either herbicides or under vine cultivation. This leaves the soil organisms undisturbed as well as improving soil structure and mineralisation,” said Paul. 

Vineyard labour

Paul is supported by business partner Mihaela Chitu, who has considerable experience working in vineyards in Spain, Portugal and the UK. Mihaela is also responsible for Vine Care’s labour service. “I am very aware of the need for experienced vineyard workers, and I’m pleased to say that around 300 of our workers have now qualified for either settled or pre-settled status in the UK, enabling them to continue working legally for us now we have left the EU. I am confident that this is more than enough to provide labour through the summer months to all of our current customers and more. 

“For harvest we also have access to seasonal workers from other licenced labour providers. The labour is available but on-site accommodation is a huge problem – we can supply the workers if vineyards can provide suitable lodgings,” Mihaela added. 

Paul concurs with Mihaela: “As usual the biggest challenge is finding affordable accommodation for our seasonal workers and static caravans are really the only option. I would urge vineyards to seriously consider having one or two static caravans where they could accommodate the additional numbers of seasonal workers required for harvest. Nearly all the apple growers have long since recognized this need and have caravans in place for this reason. If you’re worried about having access to labour at harvest – then the solution is to provide suitable accommodation.”

The Vineyard Store

The Vineyard Store is the materials and equipment division of Vine Care UK’s business. It stocks a wide range of ‘everything vineyard’ including vines, trellising posts, wire, secateurs and other accessories. The Vineyard Store website is currently being revamped to make it easier for customers to find products, see prices and shop online more effectively.

“Whether you’re wondering which type of post suits your soil type, or which clones or rootstocks perform best in the UK the Vineyard Store team have the knowledge and industry insight to advise you,” commented Paul. “Exciting things are happening at The Vineyard Store. We’re delighted that we’ve found new premises; a much larger space than our previous premises which means we can hold more stock – it also happens to be right next door to Majestic Wines which is an added bonus. 

“We have also teamed up with Linus to offer a strong, smart-looking post, well suited to UK vineyards. There are a number of features that we really like about it. Its profile and strengthened core make it incredibly strong. It comes with internal hooks which are well suited to machine harvesting and keeping wires in position, even on steep and undulating ground. Also, the zinc and aluminium Galfan coating make it very resistant to corrosion and highly suited to the UK market. The Linus post is very competitively priced, with typical savings in excess of £350 per acre for the posts alone. 

“In addition to the Linus posts, The Vineyard Store is now a distributor of Felco and Gripple products and we’re looking to add more popular vineyard accessories to our range soon,” added Paul.

The team

Sue Osgood, well-known and respected viticulturalist has just joined the management team at Vine Care UK. “With over 30 years’ experience working with vineyards in the UK, including Denbies Wine Estate and Bolney Wine Estate, Sue brings with her an almost unrivalled source of knowledge and know-how when it comes to growing vines and operating vineyard equipment. We are delighted to have Sue on board knowing that she will complement the existing team and add another level to our vineyard management expertise,” commented Paul.

The Vine Care UK’s twelve vineyard supervisors ensure the smooth running of services to clients and organise the workforce on a day-to-day basis and many of the team have over 10 years’ experience in vineyards. “Working with our Vine Care management team of Steve Burnett and Sue Osgood, the supervisors are dedicated, reliable and conscientious making sure all vineyard tasks are carried out properly and efficiently,” explained Paul.

“We are part of the Stronger Together business partner against modern slavery and ensuring fairness to workers. We care about our workers which is why they return year after year,” he added.